Residents of two Missouri towns, Cameron and Gallatin, have filed lawsuits against Prime Tanning Corp. of St. Joseph, Missouri, claiming the leather company introduced cancer-causing agents to rural farms by spreading toxic sludge as fertilizer. William Kemper, whose wife, Karen, died from complications from a brain tumor in 2008, and Janet Lasher, a Gallatin resident recently diagnosed with lung cancer, filed their lawsuit in a state court. Plaintiffs in the lawsuits allege that the hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, caused an outbreak of brain tumors in the Cameron, Missouri area. Other similar lawsuits have also been filed against Prime Tanning Corp., including a class action lawsuit on behalf of all residents of Andrew, Buchanan, Clinton and DeKalb counties.
The lawsuits generally allege that Maine-based Prime Tanning, which is owned by National Beef Leathers, LLC, who acquired the Prime Tanning property in St. Joseph this year, spread thousands of tons of sludge containing the chemical hexavalent chromium, which causes cancer, across Missouri farms from the company’s St. Joseph operation. Hexavalent chromium was used at the plant to remove hair from leather hides during the tanning process. According to the lawsuits, the byproduct from that process was spread across farms through a spreader, much like fertilizer. Many tanneries quit using chromium 6 by the end of the 1990s because of the environmental hazards. Others have closed or moved their operations overseas, where chromium pollution has now become a big problem.
As you will most likely recall, Hexavalent chromium is the same carcinogen that prompted a $333 million settlement in 1996 from Pacific Gas & Energy for exposing a California town to the chemical. This was the basis for the 2000 film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts. Ms. Brockovich, who now is working for a law firm, has appeared in Cameron to talk about the dangers of hexavalent chromium.
Prime Tanning denies the sludge contained the chemical, but the lawsuit contends that they gave it to farmers to spread during a period of 1983 to early 2009 in order to avoid paying for disposing of it in a landfill. The lawsuit contends that the sludge contained high levels of hexavalent chromium even though the company told the State of Missouri that the sludge did not contain the carcinogen. New soil testing was scheduled to begin in late August on farmland where tannery sludge had been applied as fertilizer. Three agencies – Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services – are cooperating in this project.
Source: Associated Press
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